Mayor Keck asks public to be 'open minded' on city growth

Alan Keck

A Commonwealth Journal poll asking the public's thoughts on annexation has been voted on by more than 1,000 people.

The poll question reads: "Somerset Mayor Alan Keck Proposed that expanding through annexation will open up economic opportunities for the city. Are you in favor of Somerset annexing surrounding unincorporated areas?"

As of noon Thursday, the poll voting stood at: Yes - 401; No - 560; Don't care either way - 43.

The Commonwealth Journal asked Mayor Keck for his response to the poll results, and while he acknowledged that the response wasn't surprising, he said it strengthens his belief that there needs to be more communication and dialog among all parties.

Keck stated: "The poll results are similar to some of the initial feedback I've heard. Annexation creates a degree of fear and anxiety because of the unknowns. However, the poll doesn't only consider the people that are directly affected so it's easy to see how it could be skewed against it.

"It further confirms my desire for open and honest conversation. The divisive talk and rhetoric from some hasn't helped the process. We haven't made a formal proposal. We are just exploring how this can help our community grow. While the population in the county doesn't change overnight, the county seat is Somerset. Growing attracts more business and development. This statement is rooted in facts. With that, we hope that people would choose to come and live where they work. Also, utility infrastructure is vital for growing a community, and it's a key pillar to this discussion.

"I would just ask those in the potential area stay open minded and willing to listen as we continue to have this dialogue. Like President Reagan said, and I will echo, much more gets accomplished when we talk to each instead of about each other."

Keck announced last week he wants to propose annexation for several areas surrounding the city's boundary in an effort to boost the city's population. He wants to increase the current population of approximately 12,000 - a number that has been "stagnate" for more than a decade - to an ultimate goal of 20,000.

Keck has said that increasing the population to 15,000 would double the city's bonding capacity, and having 20,000 would attract larger retailers, businesses and industry.

Areas Keck has talked about seeking to annex include areas inside of the Ky. 914 circle, Ky. 39, Ky. 1247 north of the city, Parkers Mill Road, Slate Branch Road, Oak Hill Road and the Patterson Branch area.

Since Mayor Keck's announcement at the city council meeting and followup discussion on Facebook Live, reaction from the public has been mixed, with some firmly in favor of the move, some strongly against it, and some requesting more information or taking a wait-and-see approach.

Likewise, comments made to the Commonwealth Journal's Facebook page approached the issue from all sides.

Several posters were in favor of the move, such as Lindsey Lashley who said, "It should have been done a long time ago. This is the way that Somerset grows!! I'm kind of disappointed that where I live has no hope of being annexed though. If you want the industry, and retail market here in town that you drive out of county for, this has to happen. Somerset has been stagnant for too long."

However, many voiced dissent, like poster Mary Jasper. She said, "Absolutely not! Only maybe benefits, no guarantees on anything, no promises of anything for the cost and the difference in personal freedoms to do what you want with your own property once you are annexed into the City. This should be an individual property owners choice, not an involuntary matter, that alone should tell you the reasoning for going about this in this particular manner."

And others asked for more information before saying they could make a decision on whether or not to support annexation.

Matt Ford said, "Can't answer that yet. Not sure what it would look like or what benefits or cost would actually be. I think it's a good discussion to have. Annexation may bring growth but there needs to be research to determine what the change would look like. At least the mayor is thinking ahead. The mayor has a hard sales pitch to give to convince the voters. Time will tell. I will wait to see the pros and cons with an open mind."